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Looking to buy a bottle of dark rum? Read our expert review of Pusser’s Gunpowder Proof Black Label, named in honour of a quirky naval tradition.
This rum is about as close as you’ll get to the tipple that ruled the seven seas for centuries. Named in honour of a naval tradition that helped prove the rum wasn’t watered down, this bottle is thick with dried fruits, pepped-up by bright citrus notes.
Pusser’s are experts in navy rum (typically dark rums, although not all dark rums are navy rums). While there is no codified definition for what makes a navy rum, there are some guiding principles that are mostly agreed on. To best understand what constitutes a navy rum, you must understand the history.
Back in the 18th Century, Britannia ruled a host of Caribbean islands. In the early days, the navy would transport the rum made on these islands back home – eventually the spirit became a staple of naval life, and each ship would steadily build up its own blend from port visits. As rum became more important to the navy, production had to be stepped up. After all, there were thirsty sailors the world over, not just in the Caribbean. In 1784, the admiralty contracted James Man to produce rum to whet the whistles of the British Royal Navy – the spirit would land on the London docks and Man would blend and mature the rum. So a navy rum would be a rum guided by the Man recipe, a blend constituting aged rums from two or more of the colonies of Guyana, Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad.
Pusser’s Gunpowder Proof Navy rum is made with historical accuracy in mind, adhering to the Admiralty’s blending and strength specifications. Gunpowder proof is an odd name, isn’t it? Where did that come from? Back when barrels of rum were stowed below deck near the gunpowder, the navy had to make sure that spilled rum wouldn’t ruin the powder. Experiments were conducted to find the ABV whereat rum-doused gunpowder would still ignite – the commonly used threshold for the navy strength label is 57.15%. This practice didn’t just protect the gunpowder. Sailors could check that their tots (rum rations) weren’t being watered down by asking the purser (the man responsible for the rum on the ship, known as the ‘pusser’) to light some rum-doused gunpowder in front of the crew. If the mixture didn’t spark, then the pusser was in big trouble!
The nose on this rum is a melting pot of dried fruits and burned caramel. This character follows through to a palate thick with prunes and figs. It's a big rum that demands attention. A drop of water helps bring out some of the more subtle complexities with banana and pineapple emerging after a slight dilution. The finish is enduring, full of caramel and smatterings of pepper.
If you prefer your rum with a bit more punch, then Pusser’s Gunpowder Proof spiced rum is well worth a go. The spiced version features heaps of cinnamon and ginger, which are layered over calmer notes of milky chocolate and vanilla. Tropical fruits also linger in the background.
This review was last updated in January 2021. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.